DENVER — A welcome surge of melting snow is pouring out of the Rocky Mountains and into the drought-stricken rivers of the southwestern U.S., fending off a water shortage but threatening to push rivers over their banks.
Last winter brought above-average snowfall to much of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, so an abundance of snowmelt is rushing into the Colorado River, the Rio Grande and other waterways after a desperately dry 2018.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Greg Smith, a hydrologist with Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “There’s this big sense of relief this year that we’ve kind of rebounded.”
Colorado was blanketed by 134% of its normal snowfall last winter. Utah was even better, at 138%. Wyoming peaked at 116%.
That will put so much water into the Colorado River that Lake Powell, a giant reservoir downstream in Utah and Arizona, is expected to rise 50 feet this year, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Powell and dozens of other reservoirs.
The reservoir is rising so fast — 6 to 15 inches a day — that the National Park Service warned people to keep cars and boats at least 200 yards from the shoreline to keep them from being submerged overnight.